Deddington Open Fields and Enclosure 1808

by Jon Malings

Under Construction

Much of this material is taken from

David HALL - Medieval Fields in thei many forms
British Archeology Issue 33, April 1998Enclosure explained

From medieval times the traditional method of arable farming across the English Midlands was the “open field” system. Each village was surrounded by (usually) three or four enormous fields, each divided into strips of land (which were typically 11 yards wide (half a cricket pitch) and  220 yards long (= one furlong = 1/8th of a mile) so that each strip was ½ acre in area.  Individuals would usually own multiple strips in a holding know as a “yardland”.  These strips are also called "ridge and furrow" because the ploughing techniques caused the earth to be thrown twards the centre of the strip thus, over time, causing an undulation across the strips in the field.

The size of a yardland varied across the country but was typically 20 acres, i.e. 40 strips.  These strips were not contiguous but were scattered across the open fields.  A village “Court” oversaw farming activity, ensuring that everyone ploughed and planted their strips at the right time with the right crop, or face a fine. Typically, each year, one of the fields would grow wheat or barley, another peas or beans and the third would lie fallow, used for animal grazing. Crop rotation was carried out so each field would lie fallow once every three or four years. In addition, there was usually some common land on which householders having rights - cow commons - could graze their animals.

Clearly this method of farming was somewhat inefficient.  Farmers could spend a large amount of time travelling between their strips and, more significantly, could not make their own decisions about what to grow.  This became a real problem as new farming techniques and crops appeared throughout the 18th century.

The enclosure acts were designed to modernise farming techniques by reallocating the strips so that holdings were contiguous.  These new holdings were divided up into larger but more manageable units - fields.  All costs associated with the enclosure, including fencing the new holdings, were born by the landowners in proportion to the size of their holdings.  While this benefitted the larger landowners, the people at the bottom generally lost out as common land disappeared and smallholders were squeezed. 

They hang the man and whip the woman
Who steals the goose from off the common
But let the greater villain loose
Who steals the common off the goose

Enclosure took place parish by parish over more than 150 years.  It was overseen by independent commissioners and surveyors as well as people with local knowledge who assessed the value and quality of the lands being enclosed.  The basic process involved reallocating land into contiguous holdings on the basis of existing ownership in the open fields. Allowances were made for the comparable quality of the old land versus the new allocation.

The Deddington Enclosure award took place in 1808.  This not only covered the open fields of Deddington, Clifton and Hempton but also Barford St. John which shared it's fields with Hempton.

IEnclosure also used as a vehicle to remove church and manorial tithes, a form of yearly tax that was paid to the Lord of the Manor and the owner of the Church Living.  Before any other distribution took place, land was allocated in lieu of future tithes.  As a result, the Reverend Robert Marriott, owner of the church tithes, became the largest landowner in Deddington with almost one quarter of the land in the parish.  

Another by-product was the creation of a detailed map of the whole parish identifying the new allocations and existing holdings.  The Deddington Award does just this, creating a map which shows not only showing all the newly created fields but also all existing houses, gardens, orchards and other property. The map comes with a numbered key to identify the properties.  It also names the proprietor, the form of ownership (free or lease, and the owner or the lease), the size of the property and whether it was a new allocation or existing “old inclosure”.  The description of the property sometimes details the  “swap” arrangements between landholders if the land is a new allocation.  For example, key number 109 shows that Samuel Churchill was allocated a holding of around 1¾ acres in exchange for a Close which he gave to William Appletree.

The Deddington Enclosure map shows that the total land in the parish amounted to 4159 acres, split between 163 proprietors.  Most of these were simple householders, but 55 people owned more than 10 acres each.  The four largest landowners – Rev. Robert Marriot, William Cartwright, Samuel Churchill and Henry Watkin Dashwood bart., owned more than half of the total land in the parish.  As previously mentioned, Robert Marriott, the  Impropriate Vicar, owned the income from church tithes so was allocated significant amounts of land as compensation when these were abolished.